AhCheng in Wondercity

Today, I got so lost that I drove myself right out of the city without knowing.

And it was not even the first time something like this happened.

 

If you’re close with me, there is no reason why you don’t know I’m practically dumb when it comes to navigation.

I met up with some friends in Toul Sleng, and we decided to get to a place near the Monument of Independence. I was the only one on a bike, and confident with my new knowledge of this city’s streets, I proudly devised a plan to get there, without getting lost.

News flash, I got lost, so so bad.

 

I decided to go right on a street I did not know much of, and found myself near Sonsom Kosol Pagoda. It was so unexpected that I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland, popping into unexpected places, except I was not 12 and Phnom Penh was no wonderland. But I was not completely hopeless. I had a hunch that if I kept on going, I would land on Kbal Thnol Bridge and would only be a short distance from the Monument of Independence. So far still pretty okay until for God knows why, I decided to turn right at the bridge which meant this gal was heading to Chak Angre area.

 

Silly me still thought I was on my way back into the heart of the city. I drove and drove under the 2 o’clock sun. My dread kept on increasing exponentially out of habit. You know, once your lover has criticized you very unkindly of how dumb you are at navigation, it just stuck.  As a counterpoint maybe, my mind kept playing Phil Kaye’s and Sarah Kay’s poem, “When Love Arrives”, the bit where he said, “Love knows where she’s going. It just might take her two hours longer than she planned.”

Though it was sweet, I knew my friends would not appreciate me being late. The anxiety of finding the right route kept on mounting and mounting until I saw a billboard saying it was the way to Kandal Province. Apparently, I had been travelling to a city in the last 15 minutes, just not to the city I wanted to be in.

 

I took a U-turn and thought of the literally hundred of others of times I got lost in this small city I’d been in for the last 10 years. And it struck me, no matter how lost I got, I have always managed to find my way at the end.

 

And thinking back put a smile on my face.

 

Lesson of the day: don’t take right at Kbal Thnol Bridge if you wish to stay in Phnom Penh.

 

Another lesson of the day: It does not matter if you’ve lost your way. You’ll get there as long as you keep finding your way back.

Ten Ten Taren Ten Ten Ten

You are my ice cream man.

And no, not the kind I know you’re all thinking about,
but genuine ice cream. The kind that makes kids run wild after an ice cream seller on a September afternoon, screaming, “Uncle, uncle! Give me one!”

Every time I meet you, my inner bells launch a series of off-tune jingles, which sound a lot like holidays and naps on the beach. Your sparkling eyes remind me too much of a shining droplet of juicy goodness reflected off of sunlight. And when we talk, I feel like you’re the coconut to my ka-rem, the mold to my orange soda ice cream. The irony is, with you, I am the one who melts.

 

But you are also not my ice cream man.

Because I remember living in a second floor of a run down building. Cheap white paints, narrow stairs and a busy street. We never got much money to go around between the four of us, but I always managed to save some for you.

Then it was time to wait.

And wait.

And wait. Until that familiar jingles come around the corner. I’d scream at the top of my lungs, from the bottom of my heart. Stop. Stop. Notice me. I want you. Stop.

But he just went on his merry way, about to make other kids happy no doubt. That’s how you’re not my ice cream man, because I shouted, he didn’t hear;

you heard and you still went on your way.

 

 

Nights Like This

Nights like this is when I want to cry- for the toddlers starving, the thirty year olds hiding in fear from bombs, and for the girls who hate their waist lines, and the guys who can’t cry.

Nights like this, I want to wail, for the people who’ve gone past wailing- who sit in silence contemplating the best way to commit suicide, for the parents watching their only son die.

Nights like this, I want to cry.

Finding Sita

The air hung heavy with a mild flavor of coconut oil floating no doubt from people’s skin, and hair (and probably their food, too). Despite my exhaustion over the past 2 hours of standing on a roller coaster of a train ride, I couldn’t help but stole occasional glances to the mother and son on the left. The slender, tanned looking lady in plain orange sari next to me was hand-feeding her seven-year-old son a mixture of cooked rice and something smelling suspiciously like curry. I observed the way her fingers moved to collect stubbornly scattering pieces of rice, and made soft contact with her son’s luscious lips. Where were these two heading to, I wonder, on a Saturday morning no less. Were they travelling to see the father and husband who was probably slaving away in a distant province just so she could prepare homemade curry rice for her young son on a train where most people would rather buy lunch from the loudly, yet strangely melodically, yelling sellers instead? There seemed to be a certain degree of understanding between the mother and the son. The way his mouth opened, in sync with his mother rhythmic fingers.
Swirl, rice, pork, swirl, pat, feed.
Chew, open, chew.
Surrounded by such familiarity, by such synchronicity, one couldn’t help but felt, rather acutely of just how much of a foreigner one was.

Yes, I was racially foreigner, and alienated appearance-wise- the only slant-eyed Chinese looking Asian in this sea of wide-eyed, heavy-lipped, Indian looking people. But there seemed to be another factor of difference, bubbling from deep within. These people had their own rhythm of traversing and conversing. Me? I was still largely lost, both metaphorically and literally. I was lost as to what I would like to do with my life after the trip, and lost as to what station I should leave the train owing to the absolutely unhelpful English announcement from the train radio which sounded neither Sri Lankan, nor English.

Having caught a slightly uncomfortable shift in the eyes of the busy mother, I knew she must have caught me staring. How rude of me. To avoid further embarrassing the unsuspecting mother and child, I averted my gaze to the square box of scenery, running indifferently at the son’s left instead. Green, brown, blue and white shapes mashed together, barely distinguishable from one another. I recalled the brilliantly lit jungle of Anuradhapura with occasional bands of wide eyed monkeys and white birds circling never faraway from me yesterday. This was the famous land of Lanka, with its rich jungle, and richer inhabitants. This was where Ravana, the demon king, lived and cried, and fought. This was the land where Sita spent a large potion of her life being imprisoned, waiting for her husband, Rama to rescue her. And at that instance, I realized,

I was Rama, full of hopes and dreams, cocky to a certain limit, seeking something (happiness? fulfillment? love?) in the vast island of Lanka.

I was also Sita, abducted, lonely and lost, full of regrets for past foolish mistakes, waiting for a redemption, a salvation from the current episode of nightmare.

I was both lost and seeking at the same time, depressed, and hopeless and headstrong and hopeful.

I was Rama and Sita was me.

Shnap Shnap.

Maybe the reason why some people would prefer to ignore those in front of them in favor of refreshing their social media feed is because it’s easier.

It’s easier to get the illusion of impressing people through the countable amount of likes, tweets, and shares compared to the uncountable qualitative time, energy and honest efforts it takes to truly cultivate impressions through meaningful conversations. One would have to go through all those head-scratching silences, awkward introductions, and complicated social protocols. Even if one gets pass this, one still have to find a way to connect- a common interest, say, or a common vulnerability. Then there’s miscommunication and space that needs to be calculated in. Compare that to the posting of a picture, the sending of short texts, it’s not hard to see why people opt for the snaps- they are instantaneous, cheap, and easy.

Then there’s the issue of appearing weak. Human being simply cannot connect on a deeper level without expressing vulnerability to a certain degree, and that’s scary as hell. It is like putting your naked self into the open with knives laid out next to you and a sign saying, “Hey, stab me if you like. There’s really no legal consequences.” Maybe that’s why we opt for posting a selfie of our beach body rocking the summer vibes, or our smiling faces when we receive our degree in glamorous caps and gowns instead. We would rather put our best, strongest self forward because people won’t really stab an armor-clad, and seemingly untouchable knight,

will they?

On top of that, there’s also our tendency, no, more like innate nature to be heard, to be acknowledged. Countless bas-reliefs which must have taken hours of specialized skills to perfect, portraits which must have required excruciating days of sitting perfectly still to finish, and most recently, quick snapshots are all our vain attempts to cast a stone of our existence into the enormous rushing seemingly endless river of time.

“Hey,” we seem to say, “I’m here. Look at me.”

Remember my name.

And memorize my tender smile, children of the future.

New Second New Me!

It’s curious to observe the human’s change of mind when the new year’s clock strikes 00:01, how their whole outlook on the world brightens at the sound of a bell, or their fields of dreams and hopes become just a little bit more fertile under the rumblings of kaleidoscopic fireworks.

What makes the second of December so different from the first of January? What makes it so empowering, and so liberating for some people? Why do people feel a genuine sense of readiness in the first of January instead of say, 27th of May? I guess the first day of the year is just a fixed period of time that people assign as having the capacity of making them feel ready for changes and exploring new potentials.

Date is only a social construct; therefore, any day is as ordinary as the next one. We literally all have the capacity to create a new, fresher mindset in our ways of life literally anytime. That is overwhelming, to say at least. We can actually set a goal and commit to it from 2pm of a common Friday in the middle of the year and it wouldn’t be any different than a goal set at 12:01 on the first day of 2017.

We should really stop this all too common habit of waiting for the right year, right day, or right hour to do something we know we should because those years, days and hours?
They are not guaranteed to us.
We might never live long enough to see it.
You want to get fit? Start doing it now. Want to learn a new language? Why not now? Travel abroad and get lost? Now’s the best time as any other.

Death is the ultimate defier of waiting. It comes when it wants and leaves when it wishes. The only way to beat death in this game of life is to live now, without a second delay.